Rare Northern Lights Show Expected in the US Again

November 28, 2011; 10:25 AM
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A solar event will allow for a rare viewing of the Northern Lights across parts of the United States again on Monday night.

Moreover, the sighting of the Aurora may be more common for rare areas over the next couple of years.

"A medium strength CME occurred on Saturday and it is expected to reach the Earth Monday night," according to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist and Astronomy Blogger Mark Paquette.

"A CME, or a coronal mass ejection, is a burst of energy that is released from the sun's surface," explained Paquette.

Spacweather.com reports that the CME could trigger a geomagnetic storm when it arrives on Monday, making the Aurora visible to high latitudes.

This photo of the Northern Lights was captured in Beavercreek, Ohio, which is located east of Dayton, at 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2011. It was submitted by AccuWeather.com Facebook Fan Joseph L.

"A key point with the Northern Lights is that the CME need to be pointed at the Earth. A super strong one will cause NO Northern Lights if it is not released at the Earth," Paquette added.

The current CME appears like it is aimed directly at the Earth, a promising sign for avid skywatchers and anyone looking for a beautiful light show.

"This Northern Lights event will not be as widespread as the one that occurred a month or so ago," cautioned Paquette. The aurora was sighted as far south as Georgia with a solar flare that occurred on Oct. 24, 2011.

However, communities across the northern tier from Washington to the northern Great Lakes and northern New England might be able to see the light show.

The higher frequency of aurora sightings in uncommon areas, such as the U.S., can be explained by increased solar activity with the sun entering into a busier state.

Skywatchers may wonder how long this increased activity will last. Paquette says, "In the next two years or so, the sun should be busy and could allow for more CME's and solar flares and thus could cause Northern Lights more frequently."

This graph from NASA shows that the sunspot cycle has been entering into active state in 2011. The sunspot cycle peaks in activity approximately every 10-11 years; however, it is not a hard and fast time period.

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